Ego, Reason, and the New Faith

“This is a world not of sciences, but of religions… And it is a peculiarity of most religions — indeed, a general condition of faith itself — that those who believe in one eschew all others, regard their God or their gods as the true divinity, and their system of conduct as alone irreproachable. Thus the heart of religions… consists of a superior intellectual posture, an absolute intolerance.” — Philip Wylie, An Essay on Morals, 1947.

A funny thing happened as I wrote this. In my previous two posts about Wylie’s thoughts on Jung’s work, I wrote that his book was published in 1954. I’ve since emended it, but I wondered how it happened — the central theme of the book: ego. My identification with the ideas transposed the copyright date into the year I was born.

It’s a little thing, but little things constitute big things. Jung wrote about the subjective viewpoint: “The difference in the case of a single apperception may, of course, be very delicate, but in the total psychic economy it makes itself felt in the highest degree, particularly in the effect it has on the ego.” Such subtleties may be reserved for the psychologist, though most educated people have an idea of the effects ego has on the practice of religion. Wylie:

Through its mechanism, such passion as man has for the truth, his earnest wish to be right, and his desire to excel among his fellow men lie open to perpetual exploitation while his laziness, his irresponsibleness, and his will to conform shape him for the most accessible religion or for that religion most convenient to the nature of his personality, whatever it may be. Fear is, moreover, the father and mother of every religion and of all the gods — their offspring, intellectual stupidity.

We have a different historical perspective today. The Church has lost its grip on collective life, and Wylie foresaw what the atomic age would bring:

For half a century, and until the present crisis, the articulate intellect of the West has been satisfied that the Grail will be found by the scientific method. This “method,” according to the commonest tenet, has already demonstrated that man is a chemical mechanism and thereby has shown that he has chemical needs (i.e., that man is “economic man”); it now merely remains for the physical truths of the universe to be exposed for the judgment and action of a creature that is basically reasonable, dependable and good. World happiness will ensue.”

Though Wylie never expressly referred to the development of intellect and of science as the historical emergence of the individual — the subjective factor — he aptly described it:

These assumptions represent a new Faith… but their subscribers… have found no means to associate insight with their own credulity. They have masterminded as much of the world as they could get their hands on. They are… the authors of the long, tedious cult of Realism. They have shown that religion is silly… the church an abomination. But… their disillusionments have been so numerous, so shattering, that their very behavior suggests they never had in mind a Principle but only a host of Sentiments mixed with a body of different little dogmas.

When, as in Russia, religion has yielded to “realism,” neither liberality nor humanitarianism has blossomed but only instinct regimented, internal ruthlessness, and an aggressive greed. Where the church has held sway, confusion has increased… Social discipline but turns… into professional regiments and tenders the keys of human zeal to opportunists… God’s disciplines give the keys to a Vatican or, in a “free country” to the vanity of every private Presbyterian.

So Communism has given way to the new “individual”, the regimentation of society no longer forced but craftily manipulated and sold back to us through a needy and regressive conformity. The greed and opportunism exploiting Marx’s ideal of an “economic man” hides now beneath the guise of freedom and democracy.

There is no Reason today in a whole world implemented by reason… A world wherein the best brains are no longer capable of turning back to the old gods. A world of physicists unmoved by Christian charity. A world four-fifths inhabited by the blindest bigots, born into credulity, worshiping snakes and ghosts and holy virgins. A world which has at last unlocked the secret of objects, whose strength is as the strength of suns because of the pure part of a few minds. A world of muscle, carnivorous, with a very little brain. A new dinosaur — man, destroying, huge — who dimly blinks at the shape of extinction, sees the coming of hunger in a planet his own strength has scourged. A stupid character who has sought violence as the means of his arrogant perfection and hypocritically to protect himself; who now sits in the gloom of an unradiant mind, waiting for radiation to consume his tissues. The one animal who ever feared himself — as well he might!

The unconscious god of fear is a religious one. The most basic facts of the psyche tell the story not of religion but of a religious attitude toward life.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Psychology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *